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Roxane B. Salonen, Published December 02 2013

Parenting Perspectives: Teens teach unconditional love like no others

Back in May, our middle child turned 13, turning us into a tri-teen tribe.

Some know the treacherous territory this entails, not to mention the afflictions it affixes.

For starters, there’s the Rolling Eye Rash, the Slamming Door Seizure, and the ever-spreading, nearly uncontrollable Talking Back Tick.

In order to traverse the murky waters of this volatile atmosphere, I’ve developed a combative disorder – the Spontaneous Sillies. Because, quite frankly, without laughter as an antidote, there’d be no hope of getting to the other side sane.

Despite having to continually confront the eye of the Hormonal Hurricane, however, nothing has taught me more about unconditional love than my teenagers.

When children are young, summoning regular doses of unconditional love comes fairly naturally. But once they hit the age of reason, and yet daily show so few signs of being reasonable, it’s easy for a parent to find herself frequently confounded.

Unconditional love, after all, does not mean setting aside good sense and allowing the object deserving our love to do as she may. Nor does it require an endless supply of warm-fuzzy feelings.

In fact, unconditional love isn’t so much about feeling as it is about choice – choosing to love someone even when he or she appears unlovable or undeserving of love.

I had the chance to rediscover this recently. One of the above-mentioned post-child, pre-adult beings was in a tizzy after trying to settle down early to rise for a pre-dawn baby-sitting job. Having been invaded countless times by her little brothers with noise and lights, she was beyond provoked, not to mention tearfully frustrated.

By the time I was alerted, the storm was in full motion, and I knew my intercession might have little effect and could even stoke the streaming wrath. And yet, moved by maternal rote, I abandoned my present duties and rose to enter high waters.

There were few words, for I knew throwing them out would be like tossing a goldfish to a ravenous, thrashing shark. So with little recourse, I fell to a method from days gone by.

Quietly, I crept into her room and, gently, crawled into her bed. While lying beside her, I began stroking her hair, and thinking, not saying, “Hush, sweet girl. It’s going to be OK,” and whispered a prayer for her safekeeping.

The effects weren’t immediate. It was obvious part of her resisted my presence, but little by little, just like when she was a swaddled cherub resting in my arms, she began to breathe easy, let go.

It’s counterintuitive to walk into the middle of a storm, and yet this is the prompting of unconditional love, an act based not on first instinct but what seems on second thought the right thing to do.

Sometimes, when caught in a potentially combative moment with my children, the best I can do is look at them not as the Wild Thing they’ve temporarily become, but as the babe I once rocked quietly, easily all those years ago.

Deep inside, she is still that little one, after all, and in order to gain any ground, I must find it within myself to see her, even in her fury, not as the monster she falsely presents, but the tender being she is at bottom.

When I can see this, not only in her but in all those who show an unlikeable face, unconditional love becomes not only determinedly possible but infinitely easy.

And if I can love my teen when she is at her most irrational and unreachable, I’m pretty sure I can love almost anyone.

Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and her husband, Troy, parent five children. She blogs on family life at http://peacegardenmama.areavoices.com.